Staff Columnist

From Alison Gowans: Goodbye, and thank you

The Gazette's Alison Gowans reports Nov. 9 at the new restaurant Tribute in Coralville's Iowa River Landing. (Rebecca F.
The Gazette’s Alison Gowans reports Nov. 9 at the new restaurant Tribute in Coralville’s Iowa River Landing. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Saying goodbye is not easy.

After more than seven years at The Gazette, I’m moving on to try something new. Starting Feb. 1, I’ll be working as a writer for the Cedar Rapids Public Library. My last day at the newspaper will be next Friday.

So in my last column, I wanted to say thank you.

Thank you to all of you in Eastern Iowa who let journalists like me in. Thank you for sharing your stories of good times and bad, your worries and dreams, your joy and heartbreak.

I’ve gotten to talk with restaurant owners and chefs about the journeys that led them to create and serve good food. I’ve talked with artists about what inspires their craft. I’ve talked to protesters about why they’ve taken to the streets, to the Black Lives Matter activists and climate strikers and other young people about the futures they hope to create. I’ve spoken with Holocaust survivors and to American veterans who liberated concentration camps in World War II. Truly, this job has been a privilege.

The worst part of my job was sometimes also when I felt it was the most important. Calling people after they lost a loved one, and asking them to tell me about their lost father or mother or sibling or friend, is heartbreaking. In my experience, most people were eager to talk to share their stories and keep spreading the memory of their loved one. To be entrusted to then share those stories with our readers was always a task I took very seriously and felt the weight of.

I believe telling these stories is important, even vital. We grow empathy for each other through our stories.

In the last year, I’ve seen my colleagues work harder than we ever had, to put out a newspaper in a pandemic and then after the derecho. It seems we’ve been running on adrenaline since last March, trying to keep up with the fire hose of news and trying to translate statistics and science into understandable and useful information. After the storm in August, we were filing from our printing press on backup generator power, trying to tell the community’s stories as we were living the devastation ourselves.

Throughout it all, we were not outsiders, part of some imagined media elite, swooping in to take your stories and package them and leave. What happens to this community happens to us. We are your neighbors, the people you run into at the grocery store, who go to your places of worship and whose kids go to your schools. We are passionate about telling your stories because they are our stories, too.

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We can do better. The Gazette newsroom is very, very white. If we want to truly tell the stories of our community, we should come from all parts of that community, and we currently don’t. We miss stories and miss perspectives when we don’t reflect the community, and that is a disservice to all of our readers. We must recognize that it is not enough to have good intentions, or to continue with the comfortable status quo. We must seek to improve and grow with intentionality.

I’m leaving The Gazette, but I’m not leaving the community. The winds of a derecho could sweep a person away, or they could make one feel even more deeply rooted, watching teams of neighbors helping each other clear streets and find hot meals and tarp their roofs. I’m excited to see where the future takes us all, and to keep reading the stories the good journalists of this newspaper find to tell.

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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